Travel as we know it will not turn into an ordeal today. From the speeches that the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Homeland Security have recently given, combined with rhetoric coming from the administration, the public should be forgiven if they thought the world as we know it was ending.
It is not.
Sequestration is sucking the air out of Washington. It is affecting everything in the capital city. All departments are planning for automatic budget cuts. The difference between the fiscal cliff negotiations back at the end of the year and sequestration right now, is that cooler heads have prevailed and many have decided that sequestration will not ruin the country.
First of all, negotiations will continue between the budget makers. Everyone does not stop talking to each other today.
Second, no furloughs (or layoffs) can take place until 30 days from the effective day of sequestration, since federal workers have a 30-day notice in their contracts. That means the earliest that any effects of sequestration will be felt is at least a month from today.
Third, the amount of money to be “slashed” from the non-defense budget is around 3 percent. If all of us were told that we would have to live with 97¢ instead of $1.00 we wouldn’t panic. We can make changes. This is not time to panic. It is time to plan and re-examine where money is being spent.
Fourth, the budget cuts have been coming for a long time. Almost every department has planned for this and has dusted off plans that were prepared for the possible “disaster” of the fiscal cliff.
There have been predictions of possible waits at airports because of air traffic controller shortages, TSA baggage screener cutbacks and fewer Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors. Those scenarios are worst case. There is plenty of fat to be trimmed elsewhere.
Washington has grown enormously over the past four years. One of the DOT departments I work with has doubled in size from 15 to 29 people. The division leader still hasn’t figured out what to do with these new people. Trimming back his department to 28 would not be an impossible feat.
Discussions at the highest levels of the DOT lead me to believe that safety, air traffic and public-facing TSA and CBP will be the last to be trimmed back. Every effort is being made to keep the government working smoothly, even though the rhetoric indicates otherwise. I can’t imagine that DHS is not following a similar path.
The administration is also facing strong opposition from Congress when it comes to cutting public services. Expect some of the non-operational staff to be trimmed first.
The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a statement after hearing last Wednesday regarding FAA actions planned during this coming sequestration. The head of the FAA could not identify any specifics.
The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today could not provide information to support claims that the nation may expect 90-minute flight delays due to the sequester cuts.
During a Congressional hearing today, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, when asked for data to support this claim, responded, “I can’t tell you with precision that it would be 90 minutes every day.” When Members raised concerns about the Administration’s announcement on delays, despite the lack of precise data or a final plan, Huerta responded, “I think what we’re saying is that these are illustrative of the impacts we would expect to see.”
“For months, this committee has been asking the FAA for data about their sequester plans. For months, this committee has received nothing in response,” said Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). On Monday, Shuster and Senator John Thune wrote to the Administration again requesting immediate answers on their sequester plans, information Congress has been asking for since August of last year.
Shuster said, “I find it hard to believe that you can’t find $30 million in savings per month, out of a pot of $7.4 billion.”
At a meeting of the American Bar Association Forum on Air and Space Law that was held on the same day, top staffers with the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee all agreed that they have not seen specifics behind the administration claims of disaster trotted out by DOT and DHS.
The sequester basics: There will be cuts. The cuts will not be draconian. The government will not come to a standstill. In most cases the public will not even know that there have been any changes other than the howling from those facing budget cuts transmitted through the media. Yes, some programs will suffer, but the basic services of the government will continue.